But she moved across Perry County to an area where cable TV wasn’t available. “So many people started to get satellite that the cable company pulled out,” she said.
So Campbell subscribed to satellite TV, and because a combination of federal regulations and business decisions keep WYMT off satellite, she could no longer see local news and weather reports.
As people in Eastern Kentucky increasingly choose satellite TV, the number watching WYMT decreases, eroding connections and regional identity the station has created among the 24 Kentucky counties it reaches.
“It’s the glue that sticks the Eastern Kentucky counties together,” said U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, whose 5th District includes all 24 counties. “Before WYMT, there was no community newspaper or any other media that covered the entire region.”
Rogers said WYMT allows people from all corners of the region to share ideas and concerns that affect them all, and said he couldn’t have started regional organizations like Personal Responsibility In a Desirable Environment without WYMT reminding people of common problems that needed action.
But despite its importance, no satellite service carries WYMT. Satellite companies don’t have to carry more than one affiliate of a network in a market, and WYMT and its parent, WKYT of Lexington, are both CBS affiliates.
TV markets are defined by The Nielsen Co., the national ratings service. Hazard is in Lexington’s Designated Market Area, but Perry County borders counties in two other DMAs, Knoxville and the Tri-Cities of upper East Tennessee, and is one county away from the Charleston-Huntington DMA, which includes five counties in WYMT’s coverage area.
WYMT is on Kentucky cable systems in those markets, but satellite customers are not able to watch it or any Kentucky commercial stations because they live in an out-of-state market.
In September, the Kentucky River Area Development District asked the Federal Communications Commission to let WYMT be transmitted via satellite to subscribers in Leslie and Letcher counties, which are in the Tri-Cities market, citing their need to get local news, weather and emergency broadcasts.
“In today’s world where I can talk to my nephew in Afghanistan, and another in Iraq, and another at Fort Hood, all because of technology, I don’t see any reason this can’t happen,” said Mike Miller, the district’s executive director.
A recent FCC report estimated that nearly 2 million U.S. households can’t get any in-state stations via satellite. The report attempts to define alternatives for getting in-state news to residents in an out-of-state market.
Rogers said he has been trying for years to get WYMT on satellite, but “What we’re trying to do with WYMT runs contrary to the national scope of satellite companies,” he said. “It’s become a sticky wicket.”
Wayne Martin, the regional vice president who oversees WYMT for Gray Television, said negotiations between Gray and satellite companies to get WYMT on satellite ended in December 2008, but he said these negotiations have been constantly revisited since then.
Rogers co-sponsored a bill in 2009 that would have required – upon request – satellite companies to carry all local television signals in a local market. The bill went nowhere.
Direct TV didn’t reply to requests for comment, but a Dish Network spokesperson said the company doesn’t carry WYMT because it has an agreement with Gray to carry only one CBS affiliate per market. Martin said Gray asked Dish to carry WYMT, but Dish refused.
Martin said satellite companies claim limited bandwidth keeps them from carrying WYMT, but “I don’t buy that. What they’re really saying is they don’t want to do it, because they know the lobbying effort has been going on and that we somehow might open up a loophole where they could carry WYMT.”
Gray could ask Nielsen to give Hazard its own market area, but WYMT General Manager Ernestine Cornett said “We have never seriously considered forming our own DMA because we would be ranked as a small market – next to the last market – by Nielsen and we could have a hard time getting national business.”
Creation of a Hazard DMA could cause problems for Gray, which also owns profitable stations in Knoxville and Huntington, W.Va., as well as the one in Lexington. If a new Hazard DMA took counties from those stations’ markets, that could mean less money for the company.
Rogers said that creates a conflict for the company on the issue. Asked if Gray opposed his 2009 bill, Rogers said he couldn’t recall.
Martin dismissed the idea of a conflict. “If that was a concern for us, we would have never put WYMT as a CBS affiliate and do stand-alone news and staff a newsroom,” he said.
Rogers, who was a radio broadcaster in Lexington and his native Monticello, is sure about the value of the Hazard station.
“WYMT is the most important news outlet – print or electronic – in the mountains,” he said. “No one comes close to them in terms of local coverage, depth of coverage.” Rogers said he keeps cable in his Somerset home specifically to keep access to WYMT. If he ever switched to satellite, he said, he would also keep cable to keep WYMT.
WYMT News Director Neil Middleton said in an email the station’s main priority is serving the people of the region as their only local, commercial TV outlet.
“Our call letters WYMT stand for ‘We’re Your Mountain Television,’ and sum up the bond between WYMT and our viewers,” he said. “We consider our viewers and clients as family, and they look at us the same way.”
He said the station’s focus is to be a community journalism outlet for the region, providing news about what people expect to see.
“We strive each day to do more than just report or focus on the problems our region and people face,” he said. “We also have a responsibility to seek out solutions to those problems because this is our home.”
WYMT viewers seem to agree with Middleton about the importance of the station. In September, a self-selected viewer poll on WYMT’s website asked: “Do you think WYMT should be available on satellite television to viewers in Eastern Kentucky?” The station said 97 percent of the 2,106 people who responded want it on satellite.
Ivy Brashear, a former reporter for the Hazard Herald, is a graduate student at the University of Kentucky and an assistant for its Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which produced this report. She can be reached at email@example.com.